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The Book I Read: Charles Dickens Says What? A Christmas Carol

Listen to the podcast version of this blog entry here!

First, I have a supposition, a theory, a hypothesis:

Essentially, we’d have to be living under a rock not to know the story of the famous Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol. Right? We’ve seen the Albert Finney, the George C. Scott. We’ve seen the muppets and Michael Caine, the Patrick Stewart, the Bill Murray. We’ve seen the Jim Carrey. A google search revealed that as many as 61 different actors have been filmed as Ebenezer Scrooge. I know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, but somehow this is not surprising to me, and I bet you it’s true. In addition to film after film of the Dickens classic, we’ve all seen or maybe even been in stage adaptations. I think my first experience as an actor was that, in the 6th or 7th grade, I played the ghost of Jacob Marley. But here’s the question: how many of us have actually read A Christmas Carol? My guess is, even though I can only speak for myself, not many of us. I could be mistaken–but I’m guessing it is perhaps the best known least read 19th century novel ever. I mean, Moby Dick is well-known, but outside of Ahab vs. the White Whale, most people don’t know shit about it. But this story people KNOW. It’s in their blood. And that’s amazing to me. I haven’t read it all the way through. So I have spent the first few days or so of my holiday break reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and my essential question going into the project was, how will it be, that experience–how will the story be enriched (or not) for me, by dealing with the original text? What have we been missing, perhaps, by a dependence on or the bombardment by the celluloid window dressing?

Let’s find out, shall we?

If it’s at all of interest to my listeners or readers, I just finished reading the second printing of A Christmas Carol published by the Folio Society in 2007 with illustrations by Michael Foreman from the 1983 printing. Of course, I hope you know this, but just in case, Dickens’ story was first published in 1852 in a collection of short pieces called Christmas Books. What I love about this Folio Society edition, beside the lovely full color illustrations, is that the print is gigantic, spread out luxuriously over 173 pages. In my copy of Christmas Books, it’s a tightly spaced printing on half as many pages–requiring the reading spectacles. This thing I could read without my glasses–if I wanted–from three feet away.

After reading, my first and early gut response is one of surprise at how absolutely close so many of the film adaptations come. And the thing that they get mostly right is the dialogue. Many of these screen plays adopt almost verbatim the conversations in the novel–so all of the well known classic lines are mostly preserved, and reading them in silence or out loud (as I love to do) these voices ring again in our ears the way we remember them from our favorite productions. I can hear Patrick Stewart exclaiming “Good afternoon” no fewer than six times over about two pages of text, turning, at least what we hear in American English as a polite greeting, into a curse–meaning, you know, get the hell away from me. Good afternoon! I don’t know if this is particularly English–or whether it originates with Scrooge, but I remember that my son found this particular expression hilarious the first time he experienced A Christmas Carol when he was perhaps 7 years old–walking around the house good afternooning in his little grade-school bellow.

But there are speeches, that when I read them here on the page, seem unfamiliar and new to me, probably as a result of some serious editing for the screen plays. This one in particular, spoken by Scrooge’s nephew in that first opening chapter, stands out. Ebeneezer’s dismissal of “keeping Christmas”: “Let me leave it alone, then. Much good may it do you! Much good has it ever done you!” is followed by this lovely lecture from Scrooge’s nephew:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that–as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

If this full speech is included in any of the film productions of this story, I have forgotten or remember it only partially, so I single it out here just because I think I have not heard or read a better description of the holiday, or the meaning of Christmas, anywhere else. And I suppose this is the main benefit of reading the piece as opposed to watching it performed and interpreted: the opportunity to allow the words to really sink in. Not to mention just listening and savoring the rhythms of Dickens’ prose–his super-human ability to give complex sentences and sophisticated thought to characters in speech that nevertheless feels natural and convincing. Shakespeare did that. Jane Austen did that. Dickens did that.

Here’s a quick little description of how A Christmas Carol is laid out, structurally speaking. Its composition follows exactly the pattern of the story as we know it, in five chapters, or, as Dickens has named them, “staves,” the first being the Jacob Marley visit, the next three being the visitations of the Christmas spirits, past, present, and future, and the last being Scrooge’s ultimate redemption and rehabilitation, titled, oddly enough, and irreverently, “The End of It.” Again, the structure Dickens has set up has been religiously adhered to by every retelling of this tale–as far as I know. It is a simple, exquisitely clean structure.

You know, I think what I want to do here, for the rest of my little holiday special blog/podcast, is to simply share some of the joy I experienced in reading this complete text (I think, for the first time in my life) by looking at a single favorite passage or two from each of the five “staves” of A Christmas Carol.

This first one, the announcement of Marley’s doornail deadness and the initial introductory description of Ebenezer’s character is so fun, is so cleverly drawn, is so rhythmically alive, so immediately engaging. If nothing else, Dickens’ genius is revealed here as an absolute master prose stylist. And his gift at immediately invoking an atmosphere; here it is at once playful and deadly.

I can’t help thinking of the Robyn Hitchcock song when I read Stave II, featuring the Ghost of Christmas Past: “I’m the man with the lightbulb head.” This spirit has a lightbulb head–or, at least, underneath his cap. The description of this Ghost is a weird one, and I’d love to share it with you, but trust me. Check it out. I want to get to the next passage–before which the Spirit has shown Ebeneezer Scrooge a series of Christmases from his past–which begin happily enough, but become bleaker and bleaker until this culminating scene–the excruciating break-up scene.

This is essentially, almost the concluding passage of Stave II, but it’s the most significant moment, a heartbreaking moment, when young Ebenezer’s avarice finally cuts off from him this one opportunity for happiness with the young woman he loves. And already, Scrooge’s cold heart is beginning to transform: “‘No more,’ cried Scrooge. ‘No more. I don’t wish to see it. Show me no more!'”

In Stave III, the ghost of Christmas present, the jovial one, the giant one, leads Scrooge on a kind of whirlwind tour of the neighborhood and, miraculously, the world–but zeroes in on two particular present day scenes, maybe the most significant of which is the Cratchit residence, where Scrooge meets, or becomes aware of for the first time, the sickly and handicapped Tiny Tim. After thier glorious but modest dinner, and the presentation of the pudding, they make a cozy half circle around the fire. Bob proposes a toast to Scrooge, which, temporarily harshes the room, but all is well shortly thereafter as the children goof around, the family shares a holiday libation, and Tiny Tim sings a little song “about a lost child traveling in the snow.” The narrator gives us this final description of the family, a description for which might be captured on film visually, but perhaps not without losing this exact sentiment:

There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being waterproof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye on them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

How unremarkable this family is, and yet, Scrooge sees in this scene the profundity of people who simply enjoy each other’s company, who are not grasping and striving, who are content–perhaps the truest form of human happiness, to be who they are in the circumstances in which they find themselves.

One more scene from Stave III must be referenced–one that, for me, all along in my experience of this story, has been the most haunting and disturbing of all. The Spirit begins to age and deteriorate before Scrooge’s eyes, reveals that his life is compassed by this single day and then he will be no more–and in this moment, Scrooge notices something moving underneath the Sprit’s voluminous robes. Again, we’re all familiar with the scene, but the language in this passage, for me, surpasses what can be achieved visually with this particular image. Check this out.

In Stave IV, the penultimate chapter of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is visited by the terrifying ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, who appears very much like the Grim Reaper, who doesn’t speak, but only points. Early in the chapter, before Scrooge visits the Cratchit family, mourning the loss of Tiny Tim, and before ultimately visiting his own tombstone, he is shown a body covered in a shroud. Here’s a passage that you will not find translated into film, as Scrooge is tempted to remove but resists removing the cover to reveal the identify of the corpse:

Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honored head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and the pulse are still; but the hand WAS open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!

No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge’s ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the bed. He thought, if this man could be raised up now, what would be his foremost thoughts? Avarice, hard-dealing, gripping cares? They have brought him to a rich end, truly!

Something often missing from any film or stage play, and something that can be provided almost exclusively by literature, in fiction and in poetry, is character in THOUGHT. And perhaps this is the most significant thing almost always wanting when great fiction is translated to the screen–that whole interior landscape is gone. I think this is one passage above that points to the richness that might be found in reading A Christmas Carol as opposed to watching. But the imagery in this story lends itself so well to film, and it has been captured so wonderfully so many times. It’s almost like Dickens was writing for film. How many of Dickens novels, at this point, have NOT been filmed? The man was prolific–and yet there may be only a few titles of his that were never translated in this way.

Finally, we come to Stave V of A Christmas Carol. It’s the shortest chapter and it moves quickly through the iconic moves. Scrooge wakes up in love with his own bedposts. He doesn’t know what day it is. He is amazed to find out its Christmas Day, that the spirits, who were supposed to come in three consecutive nights, managed to get the whole job done in one–and thus begins a regular festival of good cheer all the way up to the closing sentence, where Tiny Tim’s words are echoed at last: “God bless Us, Every One.” What I found most astounding about this last chapter was how moved I was by it, AGAIN. Reading it out loud last night in my kitchen nook all by myself it was a concerted effort to avoid weeping–and what struck me most was the way in which Dickens has brought to life the sheer and utterly astounding joy that has returned to the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge. Listen to this:

There is a film, which I have not yet seen, a biopic about Charles Dickens called The Man Who Invented Christmas—a story, according to the trailer, of Dickens’ process of creating and then publishing A Christmas Carol. The film looks intriguing and fun—but this title seems, to me, totally apropos. With a minimum of, hardly any I’d say, religious proselytizing, it might be fair to say that the story of A Christmas Carol is primarily a secular one. The holiday, for good or bad, has become highly secularized. Santa and all that hooey notwithstanding, it feels to me that, the majority of us who continue to celebrate the holiday but hold very loosely to its religious aspects, hold on tightly nevertheless to the ethics, the morality, the values represented in Dicken’s short novel. It has indeed become for us the true meaning of Christmas.

Thank you so much for reading and/or tuning in. So long. Happy holidays and Happy New Year. Enjoy your winter. Be kind. Cheers. 

Listen to the podcast version of this blog entry here:

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The Book I Read: Podcasts (Apparently, They’re Not All That Easy To Do)

https://anchor.fm/michael-jarmer

Recently, Sara Silverman did a stint as a guest host on Jimmy Kimmel Live. One of the last bits in one of her monologues was an uproariously funny satire on the proliferation of podcasts in the world. It was brilliant. I laughed out loud, but it also made me seriously self-conscious. The bit was framed as a public service announcement warning of the podcast plague, a bonafide addiction that requires intervention: the pod squad. After this initial and somewhat violent interruption of forcibly removing the podcaster from their broadcasting desk, the pod squad offers group meetings, à la any 12 step program, where addicts learn “to be content without creating content.” I felt a little bit better at the sketch’s close, when, after saying that every podcast we get rid of makes the world a better place, Silverman tells us to check out her podcast “wherever you listen to podcasts” –before the pod squad takes her away as well. And I feel better, too, because her target (I hope) were folks who podcast about the debate over whether or not gazpacho is a soup or how to identify various balls by the way they sound bouncing on a desk. I’m not sure whether or not anybody in the world NEEDS my content, but at least, I feel like it might be providing something like a service–a content that is not, I hope, vapid, devoid of relevance, or lacking a viable audience.

Getting beyond the questions then, (do I need to be doing this? does this work have value beyond my own self-aggrandizement? is it serving a purpose or a need? might it be possible to do this professionally?), next there’s the technical issue of how and when to get it done.

I realized pretty quickly after deciding to get started (hooked in by the feature on WordPress that promises easy conversion through Anchor), that they are not really all that easy to do after all. I’ve written about my failed initial efforts in a previous entry, but eventually I did discover a way of skirting those preliminary difficulties by recording outside the Anchor environment altogether and then uploading the audio file. As of this writing, I have published a trailer and two episodes of The Book I Read podcast. Early responses have been positive–so I am encouraged, and I think I will continue as long as I have the momentum and the stamina–two things, I realize now, that will be required in this endeavor.

I have a suspicion that the folks out there who are doing professionally produced podcasts, ones that are viable and somewhat successful in reaching a wide audience, are probably doing this work in the context of a job. I mean, I don’t have a personally wide experience as a podcast listener, and I’m aware, as Sara Silverman says, there’s a million of them out there, but I have come across a few really great ones put out by folks in the sort of news/journalism realm of the arts and entertainment industry. I believe these folks are professionals who have serious support and a sizable chunk of time. Producing my first two episodes (especially given the approach to content I am taking), has required, first of all, to read a book all the way through, script a response to it, practice performing that script, actually recording it without or with minimal error, finding and editing the musical snippets to accompany the spoken bits, mixing it all together, uploading the file to the podcast cite, and then afterward, attempting to promote the thing. It takes time. I’m having fun, but I am beginning to worry that as the school year kicks in and I begin working again as a classroom teacher full time, my ability to keep up with near weekly episodes will be seriously hampered, if not stymied altogether.

There may be ways to make it easier, but none of those ways are appealing to me. Let me list a few. 1. I could create podcasts about, not new things I’ve read, but things I’ve read before. I could do podcasts about the books I am teaching. Both of these things seem like passable options, but not ones I’m particularly enthusiastic about. I want my response to be fresh and not studied. I want it to be as new for me as it might be to a listener. 2. Another option would be to improvise my response while recording. Sure, especially if I’m going for “fresh” and not “studied.” But I don’t know how skilled I am in extemporaneous spoken word performance to make this fly. While my responses, I think, have been fresh (in that they are NEW), there’s something about attempting to craft and wordsmith the script that, I think, makes it feel like some CARE has been taken, not just to say stuff, but to say it well. 3. I could have robot lady read my scripts for me! No. If you looked at the entry linked above, you will know how that worked out! 4. I could cut the music. No. I think it serves a purpose. It creates a vibe.

Conclusion: making a podcast is not easy. Save discussing the debate on soup and bouncing balls, improvising wildly, or utilizing the robot lady, I think making a quality thing just takes time. I hope I continue to have time for it. And I hope that soon I reach 50 individual listeners, at which point I understand that sponsorship possibilities open up for me. If that happens, I hope I have some choices and can make ads for things I actually value. For now, I will keep plugging away talking about books I’ve read, trying to broaden that audience, doing the best I can to streamline the process a bit. If you are still reading, you can help. Go to this link below, listen to the first two episodes, feel free to send me an encouraging word, share the links with your friends, and, if you can, support the podcast with a monthly donation. I’ve been out here shouting in the wilderness for a long time, it seems. It would be so lovely to know that my shouting has made some impact somewhere.

Much love and appreciation,

Michael Jarmer, Writer Guy

https://anchor.fm/michael-jarmer

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The Book I Read: Books as Gifts, The Hidden Life of Fifteen Dogs, and Budgie Danger

I have admitted in previous entries that I am a relatively slow reader. I read well, I think, but slowly. Perhaps I’m a better reader because of it. But because I love reading, and because I have the English major’s obsession with a list of things I want to (and think I should) read, I am sometimes paralyzed when friends gift me books. Recently, as in within the last year or two, I have been gifted a couple of books, books for which I had no previous knowledge or awareness, but books, as I came to understand by a very cursory digging around, that are well-known, well respected, critically acclaimed, examples of the dreaded “classic I’ve never heard of” category of books, or the “contemporary genius I’ve never heard of” category of books. Of course, then, they must be added to the list of books I want to (and think I should) read. And that’s all fine and good. But because they have been GIFTED to me, in each case by people I love and respect, there’s this added sense of responsibility toward putting those books at the top of the list–of reading those books before others on the list, because, you know, they were gifts, thoughtful gifts, and there’s this feeling that I am obligated to read and share my reaction with the very kind friend who gifted me the book. In at least a couple of occasions, that obligation, that sense of responsibility toward my benefactor, has gone on for a year or two. In that time–lots of guilty wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. It’s time, then, finally, to fulfill my obligation and tackle once and for all the gifted books, or at least today, one of them.

I love dogs. Growing up, I always had dogs. As an adult, my wife and I through our long history together have rarely ever been without a dog. Now we have two. And, you know, if you are, like us, somewhat in love with your dogs, they end up making their way into your social networking feeds–you’re posting cute pictures of them with funny captions, you’re revealing their most recent exploits (ours love to escape into the neighborhood to flirt with death and pillage like pirates), you’re writing poems about them, or you’re taking selfies of them napping with you. I try to be careful about this. I don’t do it a ton. I love them–but they are not the absolute center of my existence. Nevertheless, the few times I have posted dog activity inspired a good friend of mine, the poet Terri Ford, to send me this book under discussion today, The 2015 Writer’s Trust of Canada Fiction Prize winner, André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs.

A book I have owned but never read is The Hidden Life of Dogs, although I know vaguely that it is a non-fiction study about what it’s like to be a dog–how a dog thinks and feels as it exists, you know, as a dog. This novel by André Alexis, Fifteen Dogs, is a different kind of study. It is a novel that asks the question, what if, not all dogs, but fifteen dogs, had the capacity to think and feel like humans do.

Here’s the set up, right out of the gate: two gods walk into a bar–no, this is not a joke–two gods actually walk into a bar (Apollo and Hermes, to be precise) and over five rounds (they’re beer drinkers) they begin a philosophical discussion about the relative significance of human beings compared to any other living creature. Apollo sees them as no better, no worse. Hermes argues that they are more interesting, more complex, more amusing than any other creatures. Hermes wonders what it would be like if animals had the intelligence of human beings, and Apollo wonders whether, with that kind of capacity, animals would be as unhappy as humans are. Apollo suggests a wager: a year of servitude that, given human intelligence, animals would be more unhappy than humans. Under one condition, Hermes insists, that if just ONE of these animals is happy when they die, Hermes would be the victor. It is agreed, and, walking out of the bar the two gods spy a kennel–so a decision is made: let it be dogs. And it was. The fifteen dogs staying overnight at this particular kennel, through divine intervention, are given human intelligence. This group of randomly assorted breeds, then, immediately put that human intelligence to good use and escape from the kennel. And we are off to the races.

There are early and devastating results. Three tragic and clearly unhappy deaths immediately ensue. There’s a conflict between the remaining pack of dogs as to whether or not this new ability is a blessing or a curse. One dog begins reciting original poetry and is summarily shunned. Very soon, we have a Lord of the Flies type situation on our hands. Whereas, in Lord of the Flies, children on their own act like animals (but that’s probably not fair, as Golding seems to be saying that human beings are a far inferior species, and that the children, as opposed to acting like animals, are just really acting like adults–who act like animals), in Fifteen Dogs, animals act like humans, but then, many of them, try to avoid acting like humans, the result of which is that they become dogs acting like humans acting like dogs who are aware of the contradiction. The remainder of this highly engaging, super richly woven, intensely and seriously witty novel follows the survivors of the initial chaos as they navigate their lives without the original pack and as the wagering gods, among others (the Fates and Zeus himself), follow their progress. Which of them, if any, will die happy? Morbidly enough, in order to have an answer to this question, all these dogs must die–and they do. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, really–I mean, it is, but it isn’t, because the joy of this novel is immensely more than the answer to the survival question.

Despite the tone our 3rd person omniscient narrator takes, one of serious reportage, almost a clinical narrative of the facts and just the facts, the novel is hilariously funny in parts, deeply moving in others, philosophically rich, and interestingly enough, humane.

Let’s begin with the funny bits, just a few that were highlights for me: the first time, Prince, the poet dog, recites one of his poems-the reviews from the pack are terribly mixed. And later: “Prince had spoken another poem … and Max had wanted to kill him on the spot.” If Alexis’s hand can be seen anywhere, it is perhaps in his mockery of poetry–“For one thing,” Alexis writes, “like most poets, Prince’s way of reciting his works was eccentric,” a manner of recitation that “would have been strange for any human that was not a poet.” And there is the dog that memorizes the opening passage of Vanity Fair to please it’s literary human master. One of our main character dogs, Majnoun, with his new and beloved human companion, learns film criticism, another dog’s sense of hierarchy is completely befuddled by his human companions’ tendency toward kinky sex.

Perhaps my favorite scene in the novel–funny–yes–but also touching and, to me at least, philosophically truthful, is a scene where Majnoun’s human companion Nira asks him if dogs have stories. He says, of course they do, and then proceeds with a kind of nonsensical thing and perhaps what you would expect to be standard dog fare, a story about looking for a mate and digging and more digging and calling out and finally feeling hungry. Nira says, it doesn’t really have an ending. And Majnoun replies: “It has a very moving ending. Is it not sad to be caught between desires?”

We anthropomorphize our pets anyway, don’t we, and most animals? By some strange act of trickery, Alexis allows us to see dogs in kind of the way we already imagine them–so, we are really not all that surprised with the stuff that these dogs do and think–and because the dog language in this novel is not, initially, human language, it’s even easier for the reader to be convinced of this reality. Only when the dogs start conversing with human beings in English is our credulity kind of pushed to the limit–but again, we should not have a problem with this, right? We know we are not reading realistic fiction–we know this is fantasy, or fantastic, or speculative, or, as the author points out on the title page, it’s “apologue” (a word I had never heard until I picked up this novel) a moral fable, especially one with animals as characters.

So what are its morals? I think there is much here about the nature of things–the nature of happiness, the nature of dog, of humanity, of the symbiotic relationship between the two, about companionship, about finding one’s true nature, about the way we die and qualitatively, how. The power of poetry, whether it lasts or not. The poet dog–despite Alexis’s funning with his art, is maybe, ultimately, the hero of this tale. Morals. It’s not like an Aesop moral, an admonition against or for a particular behavior. I struggle teaching theme to my students and I often warn them about turning theme into “the moral of the story.” Themes have moral implications, I say, but they are not often, morals per se. Don’t do this. Do that instead. Not so much. Rather, and I think this novel achieves this in flying colors: Fifteen Dogs tells us about how things are, not how they should be.

To conclude, I would like to give thanks to the gods for dogs and this novel, but especially, thanks to Terri Ford, who gifted me this book, who is a lover of dogs, and a poet of extraordinary gifts. Her collection of poems, Hams Beneath the Firmament, is a marvel. She is one of the most wildly inventive and playful poets I have ever read. With her permission, let’s close this week’s blog with a poem by Terri Ford from Hams Beneath the Firmamentnot a dog poem–but an animal poem nonetheless, one in her series of poems about Budgies–which is a bird, by the way, a bird that some people have as pets.

Death to the Budgie: A Public Service Announcement

There’s a menace wields a skillet: Teflon is the silent killer.
The budgie life is a life of PERIL. Beware of anything on this list:
burning candles, scented candles, plug-in air fresheners (deadly oil
that seeps), air conditioners, drafts, monsoons. If you deign let
your budgie out: ceiling fan blades, dastard children (hight pitch, sudden
moves), halogen lamps (death by flame), doors in motion, bathtubs, sinks
& toilets. Enjoy your budgie. Keep him safe
from the proverbial glass full or half (he could drown!!),
bookshelves budgie could fall behind, electric cords, your goddamned

feet, dogs, cats, yarn, open windows, and of course the drunk
with her tiny window of judgment opening cage doors on a lark.

Terri Ford

There is just so much to love about this poem. But I chose it because I think it’s a fitting parallel to this lovely novel. It’s a dangerous world out there for dogs, people, and budgies. We gots to be careful. We have to take care of each other and our animals. We try to avoid becoming the playthings of the gods, the fates, and/or stupid, dumb, bad luck. Thank you so much for tuning in. So long. Stay cool. Be kind. Cheers. Take care!

Listen to the podcast version of this entry here

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On Starting a Podcast, Because, Why Not?

All through April and into the summer months, I noticed something new in my publishing options on my WordPress blog: hey! you can turn this blog entry into a podcast! It was an intriguing idea for me, for one, because I enjoy reading out loud, think I have a pretty good knack for it, and for another, it provided a tantalizing strategy for attracting a wider audience, and maybe even (as a cursory exploration of the Anchor website teased), a way to make some money. So after I wrote my last entry in The Book I Read series, I thought I’d give it try. I know my way around all kinds of audio recording situations. How hard could it be?

Well, the short answer to that question is that it took me most all day working on my first podcast and at the end of it I had nothing to show for my labors. I suppose, it could have been user error. But I was having unforeseen technical difficulties creating audio in the Anchor website that made it impossible to finish the task.

First of all, I discovered the hard way that using the Safari browser allowed the podcaster only five minutes to record. I discovered this later in the fine print somewhere, but before I did, I had made three or four passes at a recording when the thing just cut me off. Furthermore, the audio wasn’t saved, so I couldn’t have gone back to edit even if I wanted to. So the first learning: Safari allows only five minutes of audio at a time, while Chrome, apparently, allows 30. Chrome did not recognize me, my password was a strong suggestion from the Mac that did not travel from browser to browser, so recovering my login info would have slowed me down even further. I decided then to record my first podcast in five minute chunks that I could later string together. That didn’t work either. Again, for some reason, even keeping my performance under five minutes, the audio would not save and it appeared that I was doing everything correctly. Sometimes, a test pass that wasn’t even a serious take would save, but then when I tried it for real, it wouldn’t. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why sometimes it would save and other times it wouldn’t. Again, how hard could it be? Push the damn button and go.

Loading up music for an intro bumper and closing credits also proved to be ridiculously ineffective; the software would let you upload a music file, but would only allow you to cut that file into smaller chunks. There seemed to be no way to fade audio or manipulate its volume or to do one of those professional kinds of things where a voice is recorded over the top of a musical interlude. Again, I confess there may be features of the Anchor software that I was unable to unlock simply because I was unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the thing, but I also had a sinking suspicion that the software on this website is just very much limited to make things exceedingly simple for even dummies like myself.

My only success yesterday was to allow the Anchor software to read one of my blog entries out loud using some kind of Siri-like computer voice. This is an actual choice you can make. I have no idea how many bloggers out there are allowing Siri to speak their podcasts, but I just had to try it. It was exceedingly entertaining. She did a really nice job! But, you know, it wasn’t me, and it didn’t have, you know, that je ne sais quoi quality that makes me, you know, ME. But she didn’t make a single error! And hearing her read my writing so fluently made me feel pretty good about my skills! Am I posting that? No sir, I will not. But I could see, for fun, employing her at some point as a guest in some future episode, if I can ever figure this thing out! For amusement’s sake, check this out:

So here’s where I am (in the event that a Michael Jarmer podcast might be at all interesting to you). I’m going into my music studio gear to record a podcast with some gussied-up features (a musical intro, the ability to voice over the top of that music, the best audio quality at my disposal, maybe even a special effect here and there), and then I will attempt to upload the audio into the podcast Anchor website. It might be that in the next couple of days, I will be able to debut my first ever podcast presentation. Wish me luck. And if there’s anyone out there with Anchor experience, it would be really great to hear from you. Cheers!

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Filed under Introductory, Reviews, The Book I Read